Arcas and the bear

(Ovid, Metamorphoses II, 401 ff.)

The nymph Callisto was a friend of Diana, goddess of the hunt. The name Callisto means ‘most beautiful’, and her beauty had even drawn the attention of Jupiter, king of the gods. After a long, hot day, Callisto retires to the forest to rest. When Jupiter spots her lying there, languid and unguarded, he quickly takes the form of Diana to win her trust. But his unbridled passion soon betrays him. Callisto struggles desperately, but to no avail – Jupiter always gets what he wants. He forces himself upon her and she conceives a son, Arcas. When Jupiter’s wife Juno discovers this, she becomes enraged and exacts her revenge by taking away Callisto’s beauty.

Suddenly, Callisto’s once-smooth arms start growing thick fur and her nails become claws as she slowly transforms into a brown bear. She roams around her old home for years while her son grows up. Fifteen years later, Arcas is out hunting when he suddenly finds himself face to face with a bear. Unaware of who she is, Arcas raises his bow…

But Jupiter thwarts this impending matricide. He sweeps them up and into the heavens, placing them side by side for eternity in the night sky to be forever known as the Great Bear and the Little Bear.

< Terug